I Bought A Horse
"There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading.
The few who learn by observation.
The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves."
- Will Rogers
The first few hours of Honor's story blurred past in an emotional tempest with the commotion burying any opportunity to stop and make rational sense of exactly what I had just done.
front paddock viewed from the gate
It was just shy of midnight and the white-hat kid toting our family's newest addition had yet to arrive. I paced up and down the fence line along 36th street twisting my mind tightly around the filtered end of one Marlboro Light after another. When I was a kid, I brought home a different animal on a weekly basis, some more benign than others. I brought home puppies, turtles, frogs, snakes, lizards, mice, rabbits, baby birds, and even an orphaned raccoon once. Without deviation, my father scolded me for bringing anything but a turtle home. But this night I was reminded of when I brought a Chow puppy home once. I must have been nine or so. One of the kids in the neighborhood owned a Chow that had just popped out a litter of 6 and I was devoutly convinced that this was the keeper; this was the puppy to which my stubborn father would relinquish his death grip on the word "no". She was a basketball-sized puffball of chestnut-colored licking machine. She was irresistibly adorable. I hid her from my dad all day, strategically spiriting her away to different places in the house, coordinated with my father's every movement. Inevitably, though, make or break was going to happen, and I was utterly dependent upon her cuteness to prevail. I was void of options when it came time for bed, and skulked to the garage, puffball in arm. I set her in a large three foot packing box and hoisted it on top of a pile of other boxes.
I was a kid genius.
I mentally patted myself on the back for my clever day-long deception and admired the density of the wool I had pulled over my dad's eyes. Unfortunately, as it turns out puppies don't always care to conspire with you. Separation Anxiety is a very nice way of saying canines go batshit crazy when left alone. Not more than an hour after falling asleep with a smug smirk on my face, the bedroom door flew open. The unidentifiable silhouette reached for the light. In that instant I prayed for a power failure and for the light to never come on -- but it did.
There stood my dad, with the same content, sated, and peaceful chestnut ball-of-fluff I laid in the box earlier. She yawned obliviously. For a moment I seethed with the resentment of betrayal.
"What is this?"
"Nick's dog had puppies, I thought we could take one, since we don't have a dog."
"We don't need a dog right now. Plus, you've proven you aren't trustworthy enough to take care of a puppy. They're a lot of work and you apparently aren't ready for that responsibility. She was out in the garage crying her brains out; you can't do that to a puppy. What was your plan? To just leave her out there without food or water? You can't do that. You're taking her back tomorrow."
"I just really wanted to keep her." She yawned again, her feet dangling freely off my dad's forearm.
"No. This is not a negotiation."
Something in my mind told me that my dad liked the puppy. Something about the way he held her -- that he was holding her like a puppy, and not just a bundle of shop tools. I was willing to wager had I brought her home and said, "Dad! I got you a puppy!" Things might have resulted entirely different.
I took her back the next day, and I didn't repeat that mistake. The story replayed over and over in my mind and I hadn't even broke the news to Missi yet. She would be home soon and quite possibly the same time the horse would. I pictured Missi walking in the door and turning on the lights with a lead rope in hand, chastising me for my irresponsible purchase. I envisioned my fiancé haranguing me for my utter vacuum of equine knowledge and my haphazard ignorance.
Oh my God. I just bought a major liability from the Jones Auction. This isn't compassion, this is insanity. I have no business buying a horse. The horse would probably have been better off with the other clown. But I can't take this one back. Nick's mom won't be at the auction house to take the colt back with an understanding smile. THE JONES AUCTION!
My stomach churned as harshly as my thoughts did. At least the "buyer" made no pretense about his intentions. Me? I shrouded my ignorance behind some virtuous cape in the name of some big-hearted, righteous cause. But who was I kidding? My dad was right, I had no idea. But Missi did, and I was certain of a similar counselling from her.
I became frantic with how I could grease the skids on this one. Every option seemed less and less plausible than the previous, and I looked more and more like an irresponsible nine year-old with every passing fret.
Then I got a message from Missi. She was starting to close out downtown. That gave me roughly an hour and some change to pull something seriously stellar out of my ass. I started a buttery conversation, commenting on all the adorable animals I had seen that night. Missi was ecstatically happy -- I snuck the puppy into my bedroom. I talked to her about the baby goats and the purple-clad pony. She swooned -- I tiptoed the puppy into the bathroom. I talked about all the neat tack and artsy items people brought to sell. -- I stealthily slithered into the garage and placed the puppy in the box. Then this:
The door flung open and the shadow reached for the light switch. Again, I prayed for a power failure or burnt out bulb. I teetered on the ledge of inevitability. WhatdoIsayWhatdoIsayWhatdoIsay? She had to know that I was deliberately avoiding the horse discussion, the one discussion she most desired to hear about and the one she didn't receive any photos of earlier.
front paddock layout - Missi had the truck that night, and our trailer was in the back by the barn.
I'm ruined. My phone buzzed with an unfamiliar local phone number. I answered. It was the white-hat kid calling to let me know he was five minutes out. He would have been better served to just call and cackle in my ear for five minutes. I still hadn't answered Missi. I stalled. The truck showed up three minutes early (thanks guy) and I directed him to the front paddock gate in the far corner of the property just off the road.
I was astonished to see this "kid" had a full-on semi tractor-trailer with an equally-sized, partitioned stock trailer. He leaped from the cab and walked back to meet me at the gate.
"Do you have a halter and a lead rope?"
"Honestly, I wouldn't even know how to put it on or where my wife even keeps them. I'll see what I can scrounge."
I returned with what I presumed to be a halter and lead rope clutched in either sweaty palm. He laughed and noted how lively this colt was. We finagled the paddock gate with the back door of the trailer so that as soon as the door opened, the colt would have nothing but a direct run into the paddock. The driver unlatched several mechanisms and the full-width door creaked open casting hard, angular shadows under the street lamp. The door revealed a black emptiness that wafted the scent of sweaty horse.
There Honor stood, legs braced wide in what appeared to be a stance of fearful preparation. His head lowered slightly in a defensive, investigative posture. The stall was as wide as the trailer and roughly ten or so feet deep, but Honor squeezed into the corner like the rest of the floor was lava. He froze. I stood bewildered, uncertain what to do. I have to imagine now that was precisely what he was thinking. The colt snorted several times through the blackness. I felt my phone buzz in my pocket. I had forgotten to respond to Missi. I was locked in a Mexican standoff staring match with a colt whom I hadn't the foggiest how to get safely off the trailer. I had visions of the giant wolf from the movie, "The Neverending Story" lunging from the blackness to pounce on Atreyu.
"I'm not going in there." The driver chuckled to me.
I stood on the outside of the paddock gate where the end of it met with the left side of the opening on the trailer. I peered around the left interior wall of the trailer at the colt. He was stoically braced in the corner with no sign of relinquishing his position willingly. Finally, I acquiesced that perhaps the best thing to happen would be to wrestle this half-ton animal, let him kill me, and at least be remembered for attempting something sweet. I swallowed a mouthful of saliva with an audible gulp and slowly slid the gate inward just enough to gain access to step-up.
The entire trailer instantly shook in random violence. In the split second it took my neurons to respond, my eyes lost focus in the black chaos, and I couldn't discern anything beyond rapidly shifting shapes and the explosions of heavy hooves panicking on tempered steel. A massive object thrust from the blackness with instantaneous speed. The nebulous, hard-shadowed beast lurched through my field of vision like some poorly videoed Bigfoot footage. The street lamp flashed a brief phosphorescent light atop what appeared to be a horse as the trailer shook one last violent time. Honor blasted from the trailer as a mortar fired blindly into the night. Simultaneously with his vault from the trailer, I clumsily fell staggering backward off the corner of the trailer and watched in awe as the colt sprung with remarkable agility into the free space of the paddock. Time stopped. My phone buzzed again.
"Well, I guess we don't need a halter." The driver's words put sound and reality back into my brain.
I turned and looked on the ground. I had dropped the halter in the grass and hadn't even noticed. I didn't care, I was enthralled by the spectacle before me. I watched the spry colt bound aimlessly throughout the paddock. He was free. I wasn't watching a panicked horse... I was watching a free horse. The day I graduated Basic Training, I ate three Whoppers from Burger King. I ate so much and drank so much soda, I nearly vomited from my gluttonous frenzy. I recognized the indulgence I was watching. I was intimately familiar with the emotive fuel of liberty, and it was beautiful to witness. I smirked, and wondered if others had watched my train wrecks with such enthusiasm. Without removing my gaze from inside the paddock, I thanked the kid again and we closed our respective gates. He drove away and I reached into my pocket for my phone. By then, I had come to terms with my fate. Missi's reply to my silence was, "But?"
I sighed in resignation. Might as well make the most of it.
The light was on now, and there was no turning it off. She genuinely thought I was kidding. This was going to be worse than I expected. But then...
It was the moment in Fight Club where you find out Tyler Durden isn't real. Clearly this wasn't a typo, right? She is well aware I bought a Jones-quality horse for $120, know nothing about anything about horses, and she's happy? Wait. I get to keep the puppy? My elation, though resoundingly relieving, was short-lived.
Millie Moo in the drive way.
The phone began to buzz again, it was Missi. I hadn't even told her the horse was at the house yet. She began to babble rapidly in horse-language everything I would need to do to prep the house/barn/paddock/other horses in the back for his arrival. I stopped her mid rant.
"Uh, he's in the front paddock."
"Ya, he just sorta -- jumped... out of the trailer. I think he's got real eventing potential."
"You have to walk him around the fence line! It's dark, he could hurt himself on the fence."
"Well, actually, I think he's got a pretty good idea where the fence is. He's been running it for the last ten minutes."
"Oh. My. God. Baby, I love you, and this is super sweet, but you have to get a halter on him and hold him until I get home."
"That's probably not going to happen," I said as I watched him frantically flail his knobby-kneed legs in a crazed, uncoordinated frenzy. To say he was running would be like saying demolition derbies are car races.
Fences - fences are ubiquitously metaphorical. Honor had been home for half an hour and the lethal rivalry had already begun.
He was at a dead sprint (or what he must have considered so). I knew what was coming and cringed. The front paddock was cross-fenced with three wire (not barbed, just wire - like electric fencing only no electricity) and t-posts. He was barreling towards it in unabated, rumbling fury. In a last-second plea for sanity he broke off the charge and circled back around towards the front part of the paddock.
The Finley Homestead
This guy has a death wish. I pondered to myself. I was helpless to interfere. Every I time walked towards him, he spun recklessly away and resumed his energized insanity. Missi's headlights were pulling into the drive, and I was a deer in them. She wasted no time.
"He came from Jones, there's no telling what diseases he's carrying. He needs shots, needs to be isolated from the other horses" (which made me chuckle because the other two horses were as far from him as they could be, a quarter mile or more). I spoke not a peep and handed her the halter and rope. I needn't say much as Honor answered every question she had. I went inside and waited, knowing full well my presence was more of a hindrance than help.
I don't know what she did with him over the next hour as I sat in silence in the kitchen. I attempted leering out the window in hopes of seeing through the black nothingness of the paddock. I wish I could remember anything else from the rest of that night, but I can't really say I do. What I do remember, however is the next morning.
Honor, last week of June, 2011
It was Friday, 0700. I would have to call in late that morning. Missi came storming into the bedroom fifteen minutes prior to the alarm. Her eyes were wide with flames and smoke billowed from her ears.
"I need your help."
As an aside, had I known, I would have started an "Honor Phrase Jar", in which one dollar is deposited every time a phrase on the list is said. I'd be retired by now. On such a list of the most common phrases associated with Honor, "I need your help" would be the first, and so it was chronologically, too.
"The colt ran through the cross fence."
"His name is Honor."
"His name is Disaster."
I said nothing more as I quickly donned shorts, shoes, and a t-shirt. Honor was peacefully eating grass at the far north end of the paddock as I came around the side of the house. After establishing he was still alive, I noticed the train wreck of twisted metal wire scattered throughout the south end of the paddock. Wire - was everywhere. Missi marched through the pole fencing and into the paddock where she resumed picking up and securing all the loose wire. Honor quizzically walked towards us. I could see his front knees and chest were thoroughly shredded with fine cuts and crimson droplets painted the front of his legs. He maintained his distance and indifferently went back to eating. I began to help Missi clean the shrapnel.
"I wish you would have talked to me first."
"I had no idea... I... I just bought him, I didn't think... I wasn't going to buy anything."
She said nothing in response, just kept wrapping wire around her hand. Her glare was cutting. Honor continued to meander through the Bermuda fifty feet away, absolutely content and absolutely aloof. I felt stupid, answer-less, and her gaze was all it took to make me feel like the butt of an irresponsible, ignorant mistake. So I said the only thing I could think to say, framed with a crooked smile and boyish laugh:
"I bought you a horse?"
Honor - Last week of June, 2011